It actually really bothers me when I see teenage angst played out on TV and in the movies like it’s a natural part of the growing process. Spreading the lie that all teens must have an attitude problem and get into loads of trouble.
The truth is, being a teenager is hard and so much of the time we as parents are getting it wrong. That’s not to say every issue we face with our teens is our fault. The tween and teen stage is full of changes that can be hard for them and for you.
But we as parents are the single most important influence our kids have and how we parent and relate to our kids really matters… especially during the teen years.
Does it ever seem strange that your teen can seem totally logical and mature in one moment and completely illogical and impulsive in another?
That’s because their brains are still under construction!
Because the prefrontal cortex is still developing, teenagers might rely on a part of the brain called the amygdala to make decisions and solve problems more than adults do. The amygdala is associated with emotions, impulses, aggression and instinctive behavior. source
This is why it’s hard to be a teen and can be equally hard to raise a teenager.
And to top it off, we live in a very image and self-focused world. When we send our kids to any typical school, we’re really sending them into a war zone. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s sadly very true.
There are so many instances of bullying, the pressure to conform, and exposure to things we never intended when we drop them off for their education every day.
Parenting Teens with Compassion
In the lives of many tweens and teens, they’re simply getting an education in survival. And this is very sad.
No wonder teens are widely seen as angry, unengaged and apathetic people!
As parents, teachers, youth workers, and family members of teens we should be practicing parenting with compassion. And strive for connection and understanding before rushing to correction and judgment.
Don’t we need to focus on character development and discipline with our teens? Absolutely!
But first, we need to do everything in our power to win the heart of our child before they ever reach the teen years. And do everything in our power to keep it!
The heart is the access point to a person’s heart and when you have it you have everything you need to be an amazing mom.
So how do we win the heart of our kids and teens? Start by asking more questions. Not judgment-laden questions, but ones that focus on really getting to know them.
And do LOTS of listening. Way more listening than talking. And trust me, as a mom this is a HUGE challenge. At least it was for me!
We are born and bred to talk, talk, talk and lecture, lecture, lecture as a way of parenting. But we learn so much more when we shut up and listen.
The Secret to Raising Happy Teens
One of the starting points to raising thriving teens is our expectation. Our society programs us to expect the worst when our kids reach their teen years.
It’s referred to in the fabric of our culture over and over again. We’re taught to fear our kids becoming teenagers.
It’s no different than when we all feared our first child turning two because we were all told it was going to be terrible.
I’m kind of different in my thinking… kind of like a teenager. I don’t like being told, “this is how it’s going to be.” As if I have no control over the matter.
Here’s the thing, we do have a say! We do get to choose whether we buy into the lies or write a new story for our family.
I didn’t say it was going to be easy every day but at least when you go into something with the expectation that it’s NOT going to be terrible… that it’s going to be great… you’re starting from a winning position.
There’s so much power in our expectation and having low or fearful expectations actually changes the way we parent.
This is why I choose to expect that my children will all thrive in their teen and adult years… whether they do or don’t is another issue altogether.
My expectation is that they won’t be overcome by bullying and peer pressure, that they’ll be confident to stand on what they know is right, and know how to love themselves and others well.
I hope you choose to expect the same for your kids. And these tips will help you get there. It’s not easy being a parent in any stage, but we were made for this and have the capacity to exceptionally parent our teens.
Know When to Take a Break
I feel it’s necessary to start here when talking about raising tweens and teens. Not because they are bad (we’ve already covered that) but because they’re largely hormonal.
After puberty sets in, kids have a much harder time managing their emotions. Aggression, sadness, and impulsive behavior are just some of the emotions raging in a typical teen.
That means even on the best of days, there are plenty of opportunities for blow-ups.
Even the most mild-mannered adult can find themselves in an all-out verbal war with their teenager.
So when you find yourself going back and forth in a heated discussion with your teen and your blood pressure is steadily rising, practice taking a break.
Just flat-out say that we need to stop this discussion until we both calm down and try again later. That’s it. It’s not worth saying things you’ll regret and you can’t take back.
You never want to risk verbally wounding your child or tearing down the walls of your relationship that you’ve worked so hard to build. Take a break and talk about it later, or if appropriate consider letting it go.
Become a Master Observer
There are so many changes that take place in our children from their tween years into early adulthood. And many of those changes or behavior shifts are a normal part of their growth and development.
However, sometimes major behavior and personality changes can point to trauma. And even seemingly little traumas can cut really deep and make much larger impacts on their reasoning and behavior.
And trauma to a teenager can range from being rejected by a close friend, being introduced to drugs through peer pressure, being a victim of bullying, feelings of depression or suicide, and even sexual abuse.
It’s vitally important that we don’t make the false assumption that all teens withdrawal and become anti-social to their families. This simply isn’t true.
Many, many of these typical teens were traumatized in some way and simply don’t know how to handle it or ask for help. Mainly because they feel it was their fault or that they’ll get into trouble.
I was personally a teen that was traumatized many, many times and all of these encounters warped my mind and how I related to others. Unfortunately, my behavior shift was rolled into the assumption that I was just being a “typical teenager.”
I wasn’t… I was deeply hurt and wounded. And sadly remained that way for much of my adulthood.
We need to put down our distractions and pay attention, be present, and fight for our kids. There’s nothing more important than that.
And I must point out that we don’t need to rely mearing on our own observations. Praying for our kids opens the door to being able to hear from Holy Spirit who will point us to issues with our kids we might never be able to observe on our own.
Model Kindness & SelfLove
One of the things teens get a bad rap for is lacking compassion. The easiest way to raise compassionate kids is to be compassionate. We need to model both compassion and kindness to others in front of our children so they can see these qualities in action.
We can’t simply leave it to the world to do it because it’s not really happening.
Kids are like little tape recorders walking around doing and saying everything they hear and see at home. I served in children’s ministry for over a decade and I’ve seen a lot! Your kids are telling all your business. Lol
The point I’m trying to make is we want them to be instinctively walking around and seeking out the hurting, the left out, and the unloved. Because they see us doing it first.
We also need to be modeling healthy self-love and self-esteem! Our kids are growing up in an image-focused world and it’s easy to feel like you don’t measure up.
Talking about our wrinkles and cellulite all the time isn’t setting the best example. It’s up to us to learn to love our own bodies and who we really are just the way we are… imperfections and all!
Teach Teens the Value of Grit
Grit is probably one of the most powerful qualities a person can develop and grow to live their best life. Grit is defined as passion and perseverance over the long term.
Grit supersedes talent, intelligence, connections, and the ability to overcome your own fear. Grit is what determines whether you’ll stay where you’re supposed to be and abundantly thrive there.
As Angela Duckworth points out in her Ted Talk below, how to teach grit in kids is still unclear. That’s why I believe teaching kids the “value” of grit is so powerful.
Instead of putting all of our emphasis on talent and intelligence we need to encourage our children to see their goals over the long haul. That they absolutely have the power to create their own destiny if they take the passion-driven right actions long enough.
Lead them to their Passion
Most of the time passion manifests through what we see as a talent. Maybe our child is really good at baseball, dance, or excels in their artistic ability. If that child is equally driven to grow in that gift… you have a passion!
Other times a passion can be people, need, or problem-driven. For example, this teen was filled with a passion to help cancer patients when her mom and sister were battling cancer.
She started a non-profit organization and it has grown enormously and is helping so many people.
The source of your child’s passion can come from many places. However, the important thing is that we help nurture their passion and give them every opportunity possible to rise beyond their potential.
The reason passion is so important for kids and teens is because it serves to keep them focused and occupied in something that deeply matters to them.
This is a very good thing as long as they practice healthy balance, of course. But the biggest factor is when a teen is filled with a passion, they are less likely to be influenced by peer pressure, teen boredom, low self-esteem, and bullying.
Why? Because they’re busy building something! They just don’t have time for the foolishness.
It’s NEVER a good idea to have a bored and uninspired teenager. Never.
Be an Undistracted Parent
One of the reasons I believe it’s possible to make such a positive impact as a parent is by actually being there. And I’m not talking necessarily about not working. Most of us, including me, have to work for income.
I’m talking about being a Present Parent. One that’s not distracted by their phone, their busyness, or even their own dreams and passion.
As a mom, our first ministry is our family. And making the hard sacrifices to be there physically and emotionally must be our first priority. Especially over money.
The last several years we weren’t living a very glamorous life. We had a few setbacks in our business and ended up struggling in our finances. I wasn’t making any money from blogging at the time and my emotions and fear pointed me toward getting a job.
In the end, I stayed home and worked my butt off to stay focused on my family and work extremely hard in the fringe hours to build a business that I can work from home. All with the dream of earning an income that allows me the freedom to be with my kids.
Even if you’re a stay-at-home mom who doesn’t need to work for income you can still struggle to be a present parent. Present parenting has so much more to do with your priority of Family Time and making connections with your kids.
Praise Effort Over Results
Our kids are literally just trying to figure it all out every single day. And it’s hard.
Intentionally offering praise and encouragement when our kids take the right action is so key. When they take the initiative to clean their room on their own, to study for a test without prodding, or anything else you notice it’s important that we take a moment to reinforce that behavior.
They may not clean their room the way you like it done or might get a less than perfect grade on that test, but they took imperfect action. And imperfect action is a million times better than no action!
If your child is consistently earning C’s in school but they work diligently and make every opportunity to do well, then they should be praised the same as a student that earns straight A’s.
Why? Because of their effort. I always encourage my kids to do their best… not someone else’s best.
If we know our kids tried their best, then we praise them for their effort first and then the result.
If we only praise based on results, we run the high risk of marginalizing kids who don’t naturally fit into the high-performing or high-achieving model.
Fill Their Love Bank
Think of your child’s heart as a bank. We all have a love bank and it works the same as our real bank accounts. We put deposits in and take withdrawals out.
How do we fill out child’s love bank?
By showing them love through encouragement. By affirming them way more than we correct or criticize them. And by always showing up, even when they push us away and say they don’t want us to.
Withdrawals happen when we scream at our kids in anger and frustration. When we judge them before we ever try to understand them. When we disconnect because we feel rejected.
Remember, it’s hard to be a teen. And much of the time, they’re struggling with complex emotions they don’t know how to deal with. Some days our teens just need a long, love-drenched hug… even if it’s just a verbal one.
Never Tolerate Disrespect
Finally, we must never tolerate disrespect to anyone. This really needs to start when they’re toddlers.
If kids are allowed to talk back to you or other adults or aren’t corrected when they’re outright disrespectful it’s like giving them a giant green light. And it only gets worse as they enter their tween years.
Talking back is a matter of personal expression. We all have the urge to say what’s on our minds and have the last word when we’re angry or frustrated.
And being able to develop the personal restraint to hold your tongue in these situations is an important social skill everyone needs to be able to do. Sadly, too few don’t.
When we allow our kids and teens to over-talk us, say rude comments or talk back it must be a non-negotiable action that’s always grounds for discipline.
If they’re allowed to be disrespectful to their own parents it’s likely this behavior will transfer to teachers, coaches, and other parents. If not dealt with, there’s a good chance they will grow to become rude people.
Please don’t raise another rude person. We have too many already!
All jokes aside, this is an area that needs boundaries and constant attention until they learn how to more effectively handle their emotions.
Which areas are you most excited about focusing on with your teen? I know this post showed a lot things we can work on with our teens. Don’t allow yourself to feel overwhelmed or discouraged.
Just take the right actions one step at a time!
Share your teen struggles and questions in the comments below!